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8 budgeting tips for college students

Stick to a budget by keeping close tabs on expenses.

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It is the beginning of the semester and you're flush with cash. Money from student loans, scholarships, and grants have all hit your bank account. To make that money last through the semester, you’ll have to make smart financial moves. Here are 8 budgeting tips for college students.

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1. Make a budget

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Using student discounts is one way to save money and stay on budget.

This may be the most important tip. You’ll need to keep close tabs on your money if you wish to use it wisely. So get ready to make a budget for your semester and school year spending.

“One of the best things a student can do for their finances at the beginning of the school year is make a budget,” says Angela Colatriano, chief marketing officer at College Ave Student Loans. “Plan what income you have, whether that’s a combination of scholarships, grants, loans, or paychecks, and make sure that can cover your monthly expenses.”

For help with planning, check out free budgeting apps such as Wally and Mint.

“The key to staying on track is to manage your expenses and to regularly monitor your spending,” says Kimberly R. Stewart, a financial advisor with Ameriprise.

2. Make the most of financial aid

Financial aid is a crucial part of a college student’s budget. When that aid check arrives, use it to pay for essential expenses, such as tuition. Tempting as all that money may be, don’t blow it on a pizza party in your dorm room or a weekend getaway.

“Financial aid can be used for educational expenses, including housing and school supplies, but should not be used for items such as spring break trips,” Colatriano says.

3. Learn to say “no”

As anyone on a budget will tell you, sometimes you have to say “no” to fun activities such as eating out at restaurants. A dinner out or two or three is enough to upset a carefully constructed budget that you want to last for several months.,

“Our recent College Ave Student Loans survey found 49 percent of students had to make financial trade-offs during the school year, such as saying no to dining out with friends,” Colatriano says. “Think out of the box when it comes to hanging out with friends and take advantage of free activities on campus.”

4. Don’t buy new textbooks

Rather than buying brand-new and very expensive textbooks, save money by buying used books or renting books for your courses. Check prices at the campus bookstore and check out online vendors. CampusBooks.com and Chegg are among the sites renting and selling textbooks online.

5. Scoop up student discounts

You can get some nifty discounts just for being a student. Technology companies, bookstores, clothing stores, grocery stores, and even movie houses all give discounts to college students. If you have a car, be sure to snap up a student discount on your car insurance.

6. Watch how you use credit cards

Person holding plastic credit card in fingers.
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Paying credit cards in full each month saves on interest charges.

College is an exciting time for many reasons, and one of them is getting your first credit card. You have plenty of options, including cards that require a deposit, known as secured cards, that don’t require perfect credit to qualify. There are also plenty of credit cards for students with poor or fair credit. Choose your first credit card carefully and be smart about how you use it.

It may be tempting to put extra expenses on your credit card with the aim of paying the debt off next semester or next year. But, you’ll be paying interest on purchases you made. To minimize interest charges, only charge what you can afford to pay off in a month. Pay your card off in full by the due date each month, and you’ll never pay a penny of interest.

7. Pay less for food

Everyone has got to eat, and there are creative ways to eat for less at college. There are meal plans, trips to discount grocery stores to stock your dorm room, and even free food at campus events.

“Take advantage of the meal plan if your family purchased one,” Colatriano says. “Student events on campus also often offer free food - you may find something new to enjoy, make new friends, and also get a free meal.”

8. Enjoy free activities on campus

There are numerous activities on a college campus that are free to students, including movie nights, fitness classes, concerts, and other campus events. Make the most of these opportunities when looking for ways to save money on college. It may be easier than you think.

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